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PLDT, Smart building new P1.4-B fiber optic backbone to Palawan

Telecoms leader PLDT and its mobile subsidiary Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) are jointly building a new P1.4-billion fiber optic cable (FOC) transmission backbone to Palawan. Slated for completion in the first half of 2013, the new transmission network will have an initial capacity of 400 gigabit/s – a huge expansion of the existing capacity of the digital radio transmission system currently serving the island province.

“This will not only enhance basic services like voice and text. It will also make possible high-speed, large-capacity fixed and mobile internet services like Smart’s LTE (Long Term Evolution) and PLDT’s Fiber to the Home (FTTH) service,” said Rolando G. Peña, head of network and IP systems of Smart and PLDT.

“Better communications will boost Palawan’s booming P4-billion tourism industry and also be a boon to schools, banks, hospitals, small businesses and government agencies which can operate more efficiently using fast and reliable communications,” Peña said.

Jointly managed by PLDT and Smart, the project involves laying down nearly 300 kilometers of undersea FOC cable from Iloilo to northern Palawan plus another 364 kilometers of FOC cable inland to Puerto Princesa City.

This system will connect Palawan to PLDT’s nationwide domestic fiber optic transmission network.

“We call this our ‘fiber advantage’,” Peña said. “Fiber optic networks are absolutely vital if you want to provide reliable advanced communication services.  The PLDT Group has the most extensive and most modern fiber optic network in the country.”

PLDT and Smart currently have about 54,000 kilometers for fiber optic cable rolled out nationwide. Working with Digitel and Sun Cellular, the PLDT Group is adding more.

Already, fiber networks connect most of Smart’s base stations in Metro Manila and a growing number elsewhere in the country. This enables Smart to carry growing volumes of voice calls, SMS more reliably and to provide high-speed data services like LTE.

The first land-based transmission backbone serving Palawan was built by Smart in 2004.  This used microwave radio to transmit data and made it possible for Smart to offer multimedia messaging and mobile internet on top of voice calls and SMS.

Before this, the island was being served using satellite links which were costly and had limited capacity.

Since then, communications traffic has grown significantly, requiring the installation of large capacity networks to serve Palawan.

High-speed communications is now essential for Palawan’s tourism business which has been growing rapidly in recent years.  Palawan is currently the country’s fifth leading tourist destination.

According to local government estimates, the number of tourists in Puerto Princesa jumped from about 160,000 in 2007 to over 500,000 in 2011.  Expectations are the number will breach the 700,000-mark this year.  By 2014, Palawan hopes to attract a million visitors.

Tourists are being drawn by Palawan’s natural wonders such as the Puerto Princesa Underground River, which was recently proclaimed one of the world’s “New 7 Wonders of Nature”.

More visitors have also taken to trekking and other eco-tours that take advantage of the island provinces unspoiled natural beauty.

“More and more of these visitors expect to have reliable internet access – either through fixed terminals or on their mobile phones.  This is no longer just a luxury.  It is a necessity,” Peña said.

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